A social mission begins with a broken heart

BY MARIA LOVELLA NACES

PARTICIPANT, ACTIVE CITIZENS MINDANAO

 

The air-conditioned waiting room was getting too cold for me. I was in queue to give my letter and talk to this local leader to ask support for our social enterprise (SE). When I called for the appointment earlier that day, the assistant said he would be available by 14.00. I arrived on time but the local leader was still meeting some people. I waited. I sat there, wishing I brought my thermal jacket. It was too cold. I checked my watch for the nth time, it was 16.30 and their meeting was not yet over. I decided not to leave. After few more minutes later, my name was called and I went inside his office. He looked like he wasn’t pleased. He didn’t offer me a seat, so I remained on my toes. I showed him my letter, delivered my pitch and elaborated on our plans for a possible collaboration with their office. He looked at me suspiciously. Unlike people from other government offices I approached, he did not understand social enterprise and bluntly told me that ‘Basin gamiton rani nimo sila (beneficiaries) para sa imong kaugalingong kalambuan’, (‘Maybe you are just going to exploit these people (beneficiaries) for your own interest’). I did not know how to react. It was the first time I got this kind of response. I kept calm, thanked him and decided to leave. I left his office really down and disheartened. In a few hours I would board my plane off to Hong Kong for the Social Enterprise World Forum and the British Council International Study Visit. Still a bit down and bothered, I began thinking about what to expect in the forum. I was anxious on what could happen in that forum and study visit.

A few hours after arriving in Hong Kong, we gathered at the British Council office. There, I met people from other countries. I shared what we do with our social enterprise and I was astonished by their positive response. In contrast with what happened in the local leader’s office, these people were supportive and inspiring. I then decided not to let the local leader’s response bother me anymore. Instead, I told myself, I will immerse myself in this event, observe, listen and absorb as much knowledge as I could. Thankfully I did.

It began with witnessing the troubling life situations of the people to which they empathized and decided to act upon their desire to help. 

The next day, we walked through the poverty-stricken streets of Hong Kong. We were at what they call “the other side” of Hong Kong, the places not frequented by tourists. Under this one bridge, I saw makeshift houses, like piles of dilapidated boxes where people reside in dire poverty. The tour guides talked about the social problem and how people would sometimes opt to end their lives rather than continue in that living condition. I listened intently and understood how several SEs were founded on these problems. 

I got to know the stories of other social enterprise leaders while we were on tour and thought it admirable that they are sincerely trying to address social issues. I realized that these are broken-hearted people, and every social enterprise story began with a broken heart. It began with witnessing the troubling life situations of the people to which they empathized and decided to act upon their desire to help. Their brokenness turned their empathy into a social mission. For these social enterprises, coming up with a long term solution was a struggle filled with trials, disappointments and rejections. But they were still able to design long-term solutions in the hope of eradicating their identified social problems. They refused to stay dejected, refused to be cynical at the face of such situations, and I realized that the passion of the broken-hearted is boundless. While there, I heard incredible survivor stories of some social enterprises but the determination to do more cannot be diffused and it inspired me. 

That evening, the World Forum commenced. It opened with differently-abled children singing and playing instruments. Most of the kids on stage were blind and one of them brought her dog. I sat comfortably on the fifth row, not prepared for what I was about to see. 

They started singing The Prayer and I found myself struggling to hold back my tears.  They sang beautifully. Lyrics like, “I am strong when I am on your shoulder, you raised me up to more than I can be” sounded different. Coming from them, the song seemed to carry a deeper meaning and I busied myself with other things to prevent my tears but I couldn’t.

While they sang, a thought hit me: the effect of the simple act of giving to people who received. For the first time, I was clearly seeing things from their perspective and I understood how much I underestimated the weight of the things social enterprises do to people. What could have been their fate, had it not been for these social enterprises? I thought about the other SEs I know and thought of what could have been the fate of that former inmate? Or of that formerly trafficked girl? That street kid? Or that elderly who scavenged every day?

This world forum was more than just a sharing of ideas. It was a forum of wisdom, an exchange of stories, a sharing of mission. I recorded speeches of the speakers, took notes from all the discussions I attended and asked a lot of questions. Learning has never been this exciting. I talked to as many people as I could and approached speakers during coffee breaks. They were frank yet kind. They were generous with their knowledge and advice. Despite all the negative news we constantly hear, this world is still filled with good people trying to make the world a better place. The concept of “making the world a better place” is not just a floating concept of wishful thinking but a tangible reality. 

The three-day forum ended and we went back to the British Council Office. It seemed like ages since we first gathered in that room. The overwhelming amount of knowledge we picked up in the span of the three days made it feel like months of constant learning. There were many things I learned, but that one thing that stood out was the realization of my own brokenness. That we all are broken-hearted people, and to continue giving we must continuously be in touch with the feeling of brokenness. This way we see and understand. Eventually this will make us move forward and walk over past disappointments, rejections and challenges; this feeling will inspire us to keep on creating and recreating solutions--and by refusing to heal this brokenness, we will keep inspiring more people to really make this world a better place especially for the lost and the forgotten.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Maria Lovella Naces is an Active Citizen in Mindanao and one of the Philippine representatives in the SE World Forum held last September in Hong Kong. She is the Research of Balay Balay 3D Architecture, a social enterprise aims to preserve Filipino heritage through the creation of 3D puzzles of Filipino architecture. Love is also a part-time lecturer teaching Research, Sociology and Anthropology in Capitol University.